Located on the banks of the Chehallis River in Doty, Washington, Willapa Hills Cheese has been producing farmstead cheeses and dairy products made with sheep and cows’ milk since 2005.
For owners, Stephen Hueffed and Amy Turnbull, this is truly a labor of love that was inspired by a visit to a goat-cheese dairy in Napa before they were married. Fast forward to 2013 and Stephen and Amy are now is their fifth year of making cheese and they’ve expanded their line of products to include fresh cheeses, aged cheeses, blue cheeses, as well as cheese spreads and yogurt cheeses.
Production improvements for their cheese spreads and yogurt cheeses was supported by a Whole Foods Market Local Producer Loan, which they used to purchase a cup sealer. That improvement increased production and doubled the shelf life of these products.
There is a rhythm to life on the farm that’s tied to the seasons and spring brings the return of twice daily milking. This year their herd of Lacaune-East Friesian diary ewes lambed at the end of January/beginning of February so milking resumed the first week in March. Each ewe produces an average of about 2.5 pounds of milk per day which is just over a pint of milk per sheep per day. While this may not seem like much milk by volume, the solids in sheep’s milk are higher than in goat or cow milk, which makes for a better yield on the cheese.
With this milk, Stephen and Amy produce one of my favorite seasonal sheep milk cheeses – Willapa White. This lactic-style cheese is made fresh to order every week for the duration of milking season which lasts from March to the end of August.
The process to make the cheese starts with pasteurizing the sheep’s milk as required by the FDA. Next the pasteurized milk is cooled to 78 degrees, cultures and salt are stirred in and allowed to develop for 30 minutes before adding the vegetarian rennet. After about 12-16 hours, the pH is measured and once the sweet spot is hit the curd is hand-ladled into the cheese forms. The cheese is then flipped by hand twice a day for two days, chilled and then wrapped and delivered to market. The resulting cheese, 5 ounces round, is sweet, buttery and tangy. It’s perfect by itself but you can also serve it crumbled over a salad, added to your favorite breakfast scramble or paired with smoked salmon on a toasted bagel. Once you’ve tried this, you’ll never look at a bagel the same way again. Truly, the possibilities for this delicious cheese are endless!
With the range of farmstead cheeses that Willapa Hills crafts you’re sure to discover one or more that will become one of your favorites too. These cheeses are available in our stores in Washington and Oregon.
Do you have a favorite farmstead cheese in your area?